What once looked like an inevitable task for the San Antonio Spurs is starting to look like a chore.
While Gregg Popovich isn't the kind to care about individual accolades, it's hard to believe he doesn't want to become the NBA's all-time winningest coach when he's already this close. Heading into the season, he was just 26 wins away from doing just that. Now the magic number is 22.
With the Spurs' slow start, nothing looks like a given anymore. Winning just four of their first 15 games, they're below the winning pace needed to get to 26.
With 67 games left, San Antonio will need to win 1/3 of those to give Popovich the number one spot with 1,336 career wins. Having established all that, let's look at some games in which the Spurs should be favored to get the job done if they play decently.
The bottom four teams in the league are the following:
Houston Rockets: 1-14
New Orleans Pelicans: 2-14
Orlando Magic: 4-11 (Spurs won series 2-0)
Detroit Pistons: 4-10
The Spurs still have all four games against the Houston Rockets this season, beginning on January 12th. There's no reason to believe they can't take three of four from this team considering how they're playing.
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio also has four games left against the New Orleans Pelicans, who are similarly playing terrible basketball, but Brandon Ingram is back and Zion Williamson has recently been cleared for contact drills. Those two are the heartbeat of the team when healthy, and a split series is probably the most likely outcome if they can stay that way.
The Spurs lost to Detroit in the preseason, but the games that matter will take place on December 26th and January 1st. Considering the second matchup will be on the second half of a back-to-back, a conservative approach would mean the series will be split here too.
Finding other wins
Conservatively, San Antonio should have six more wins in the bank from bottom-feeders, but they could have as many as nine if they truly take care of business. That would put the magic number from 22 down to between 13 and 16 with 57 games remaining.
Some other favorable stretches for the Spurs include:
- A four-game homestand beginning Nov. 22
- A five-game homestand beginning Dec. 7
- A seven-game homestand beginning Jan. 12
- A seven-game homestand beginning Mar. 7
If the Spurs can win roughly 60% of their games during these homestands, that should already put them over the 26-win mark for the season.
San Antonio also has several games against other below .500 teams in the Western Conference, including the Thunder (3), Wolves (2), and Kings (2).
While I'm purely speculating, it makes sense that Coach Popovich obtaining the record would be the ultimate final feather in his cap as he looks to transition to Becky Hammon or another worthy coach (but please, make it Hammon). At this point, it may be time for that to happen in 2022.
For the sake of the team and to further polish Coach Popovich's legacy, the Spurs need to reach that mark in whatever way they can, and it's likely they will -- just barely.